Is single-payer health care dead in California? There were a lot of headlines to that effect in late June, after Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon shelved the Healthy California Act, which would have abolished private insurance and established the state as the sole provider of health coverage in California.
But advocates for single-payer — most notably the California Nurses Association — are proving relentless in their single-minded pursuit of a government takeover of health care. Rendon went to great lengths to emphasize that the bill wasn’t dead — and that it could come off the shelf again next year.
So the fight against this misbegotten plan, which would cripple the state’s economy and ruin its healthcare system, continues.
Let’s review. On June 1, the state Senate voted 23-14 to pass the Healthy California Act. The measure would have provided “free” care to all state residents — no copays, deductibles, or cost-sharing. Anyone with an employer-sponsored health plan, an individual insurance policy, Medicare, or Medi-Cal would have lost their coverage and been forced into the state-run plan.
Backers had hoped that the bill would be quickly approved in the state Assembly, where Democrats hold a 55-25 seat majority. But Rendon blocked it, saying it was “woefully incomplete.”
That’s an understatement. The state Senate never bothered to come up with a plan for funding its single-payer experiment. Rendon made clear that he’ll take the bill up again if the Senate passes “workable legislation that addresses financing, delivery of care, and cost control.”
Instead, the law’s backers have staged angry protests. Rendon has even received death threats.
The Healthy California Act offers a lot to be angry about. First, there’s the price tag. At $400 billion a year, the law would more than double the state’s already gargantuan budget. The Senate Appropriations Committee estimated that a new 15 percent payroll tax would be necessary to cover the added costs.
Even supporters of the Act peg the cost at $331 billion a year — only about 1.8 times the current state budget. And that’s assuming that the bill’s advocates can deliver billions of dollars in promised “savings” that may never materialize.
What little we know of the Healthy California Act guarantees that costs will quickly spiral out of control. The bill mandates first-dollar coverage for everyone in the state, including illegal immigrants. It lets residents visit any doctor they want. And it promises that patients would be able to see specialists without referrals.
Under such a scheme, the only way to rein in costs would be through strict price controls on doctors and hospitals.
We already know how this story goes. California is currently being sued by patients enrolled in Medi-Cal, the health program for the poor. The plaintiffs say the state’s low payment rates have made it virtually impossible for them to find a doctor who will accept their coverage and treat them.
One patient involved in the lawsuit spent a year trying to find a Medi-Cal doctor who would remove her gallbladder. She eventually went to Mexico to have the procedure done.
Access problems and treatment delays are hardly limited to Medi-Cal. Veterans have it even worse. Just two years ago, the public learned how veterans had been literally dying while waiting to get treatment through the Veterans Health Administration’s single-payer system. Chronic treatment delays persisted even after Congress pumped an additional $10 billion into the program.
Life-threatening delays are endemic to single-payer systems around the world.
Single-payer promises free care to everyone while downplaying its true costs — and delaying or denying it to those who need it most. It’s about time the single-payer dream died in California.